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Wednesday, 16 February 2000
Page: 11818


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Justice and Customs) (9:45 AM) —I will give Senator Bolkus a little more time. I do understand that the amendments he is seeking were actually sent to the adviser who is in the advisers' box. As I understand it, they were emailed yesterday and someone has gone to check that they are being sent again. We can keep this going until you can resolve that.

Perhaps while those matters are being resolved, it would help if I addressed amendment Nos 1, 2 and 8 because they all relate to the establishment of the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Committee. The government opposes this in two respects. Firstly, we are opposed to dealing with it now attached to a bill which relates to the Australian Federal Police that reflects a certified agreement made by the Federal Police as an agency with the federal agents and employees. We believe that that it therefore deserves to be dealt with on its own as expeditiously as possible and not be delayed by the wish of any other party or senator to have another separate law enforcement issue considered. We think it is ungracious—to say the very least—to the Federal Police, who have worked very had to come up with this certified agreement, got agreement on it and are waiting for this bill to be passed so that the changes can start to flow in the Australian Federal Police.

I will just give one example of the changes. I will not go into a debate on the bill as a whole. To give an example of what we are seeking to do here, the previous government, probably believing it to be in the interests of the Federal Police at the time, set up a scheme called AFPAS. What it really meant was that, if you were an Australian Federal Police officer and you were good and there were no problems, when you wanted to retire you would get a percentage of your salary for each year, but you could only get it if you retired. A large number of Federal Police were taken on under a 10-year contract, which happens to expire in July this year. What do you think happens to young men who may be married, have kids and responsibilities 10 years down the track? They have got 10 years of AFPAS entitlement and they can only get it if they leave. What seemed to be a good idea at the time turns out not to be. In addition, different governments have had different ways of treating the AFPAS liability, that is, the capacity to pay this money out when people leave and that has put pressures on the Australian Federal Police. Clearly that system has to go. It is an incentive for good police officers who do not get into trouble to leave at the end of their contract to get money. It did not appear to be so at the time when it was created. I understand that, but that is what it has turned into.

This agreement gives the police who stay the capacity to access that money now. That is what a lot of them want to do. It is a more efficient system for the Federal Police and a more efficient system of funding for the government. That is the sort of thing that will happen if we hold up this bill, and I will come to them during the proper debate on the bill. I argue that this bill should not be held up because one or other party here wants their particular issue that is related to the AFP, but not specifically targeted to be AFP, discussed. I say it should be dealt with separately in the first instance.

Secondly, the government says that there is no need for such a committee. We have a legal and constitutional affairs committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives and each chamber has the fullest capacity to refer any matter it wants to those committees to have them properly looked at—any matter it wants in relation to the Australian Federal Police and any other aspect of law enforcement. We already have a parliamentary joint committee that oversees the National Crime Authority. That was established because the National Crime Authority has powers which are different to and in excess of those of the Australian Federal Police. That committee was established as an acknowledgment of particular powers that the then Labor government gave to the National Crime Authority. Not all law enforcement is in that category. We say it is unnecessary. We already have a committee for the National Crime Authority and each chamber has committees to which any matter whatsoever can properly be referred. So there is no need.

The third point I would raise is that law enforcement, given the days of new technology, e-commerce, et cetera, is not regarded as the sexy end of funding federally. Law enforcement has always had to battle with difficulties in relation to funding. They have operational requirements that you and I cannot even dream of, yet there is this concept, without proper thought, of adding a regular requirement of servicing a parliamentary committee where no need has yet been demonstrated. Every police force has its problems. We know that. Certainly senators from New South Wales know that, but where is the demonstrated need that the committee arrangements we have at this time are not satisfactory? We would be setting up a committee for the sake of setting up a committee; for heaven's sake, I thought we could do better than that.

For those reasons we oppose this. I would happily have a long and serious debate with anybody on this issue. I do not want to have it now and hold up this Australian Federal Police Legislation Amendment Bill 1999 and the benefits that flow to the men and women in the Australian Federal Police force. I am not convinced at this stage, and have been given no good reason why we should add yet another committee to a set of committee structures of which I think we can all be proud and which have the capacity to deal with these matters already.